Book Review: One Night in Turin aka All Played Out by Pete Davies

I have a dim recollection of the 1990 World Cup, so vague and murky that I sometimes wonder if it’s a fake memory. The memory is of being five years old and uninterested in football, sat on my grandparents’ carpet as my Dad and Bampa watched the match. I knew none of the players, or what was going on, but I remember tension and then disappointment, as England lost on penalties to Germany. Whether this actually happened or if my synapses have crossed two memories into one- being at my grandparents’ and oblivious to whatever was captivating the adults and seeing the penalty shootout later on.

1990 is as close as the English have come to winning the world cup again since 1966. Boasting a team of skilled players- Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, David Platt- and headed up by Bobby Robson, a man who in my football-following years is held in great regard. The team made it all the way to the semis where they were eliminated by the Germans in one of the newly introduced penalty shoot outs. Gazza got booked and wept, as it meant he was suspended for the final and both Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce missed from the spot.

I bought this book because I thought it was a look back at the tournament and I’m interested in what really goes on behind the scenes with the players at a big tournament. What stories would come out as the major figures looked back?

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It turns out that the book was actually published shortly after the World Cup, as All Played Out, and that Davies was on hand to interview and document what he saw. Davies had fantastic access and over the course he interviews the players, Bobby Robson and a wealth of sources from all over- FA officials, English fans and locals, the press covering the event and the organizers of the tournament.

This provides the book with great scope, capturing the shifting atmospheres over the World Cup- the glee in Rome when Italy win a match, the chaos behind the scenes as the Italians scrambled to get everything ready, the paranoia over hooliganism and the tensions between players and the press.

Davies writes with intelligence and wit, as well as passion. He’s clearly a football fan and gets caught up in the games, capturing the tension and excitement of following sport, and the World Cup’s ability to create heroes and villains, through his warm affection for Roger Milla and Cameron and the opprobrium towards Diego Maradona.

It’s biased at points, but Davies is a good enough writer to acknowledge that England rode their luck at times, even if he gets in on the ground floor with the English fans whinging about penalties (my opinion is this- a shoot out is the quickest, cleanest way of resolving a draw. Yes it can be unfair or harsh on players, but every other option has severe weaknesses- Golden Goal reduces matches to dull, overly cautious defensive lines and replays waste time. Penalties are high pressure, but no one side has immunity to that. It comes down to who’s nerve holds out or who’s keeper plays a blinder).

Davies is funny, especially as he revels in the madness, excess and contradictions of “Planet Football”. There are sarky one liners galore and a nice eye for the ridiculous or plain daft, which make this an entertaining journalistic account of a tournament and not just a fan’s griping and hyperbole.

One of the best things is how Davies manages to look at situations from different viewpoints and create an interesting picture of the footballing landscape back at the start of the 1990s. The horror of hooliganism looms over the whole tournament, with English fans facing hostile police and the team being exiled to play their games away from the big cities during the group stages.

While acknowledging the terrible nadir of hooliganism, Davies also makes valid comments on how the actions of the minority don’t reflect football or football fans, but rather society in general. And he delves into the way the moral panic over football violence was hyped up by tabloid exaggeration and the UK government’s lack of connection to the sport.

The actions of the press at times seem awful, with headlines screaming of “rampages” and “battles” where in truth only a few dozen were involved at most. Similarly the press’ stories regarding players are often flimsy or invasive. It’s sad to see that some things haven’t changed since then.

The FA seem out of step too, and with Hillsborough only a year earlier it’s a new group, the Football Supporters’ Association, which tries to build trust and respect between fans and the governing body. Over the course of the tournament many fans come round to the FSA, which does appear to do good work, but Davies knows both sides need to set the politics aside.

It’s not all big picture stuff, there are fantastic interviews with key England players, with Davies capturing the passion, camaraderie and personalities of the squad. We get Gazza messing about and Terry Butcher’s ferocious pride and dedication. Davies seems to get a good idea of how these men tick and does a good job in drawing out insight which reveals the mix of pleasure and frustration they get from representing their country.

Not that he has rose tinted specs on and he does criticize their hypocritical attitude towards the press- complaining but still taking money- but on the whole he seems to just treat them as an alright group of lads trying to get by under the media spotlight.

It’s great to see things at the time, with Gazza seeming poised for world domination and Robson, later a beloved legend, getting flak from press and fans alike due to his tactics. It’s interesting to see how differently people were viewed at the time, and the big changes in the footballing world- all seater stadiums becoming the norm, English clubs returning to European competition and the creation of the Premier League, leading English football to new heights and popularity.

One of the few problems I have with the book is that there’s no “what happened next?” section, which would have been handy. While some of the players and their stories are familiar to me- Gazza’s troubled life and failure to live up to the skill he displayed, Lineker’s career on television and most personal to me, Stuart Pearce’s penalty redemption in Euro 1996.

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But other players and figures are less well known, and it’d be interesting to know where they ended up, and to hear Davies’ views on the legacy of the tournament and the changes to the football landscape since ’90, which is something he wonders about during the book.

It’ll work best with football fans, as they’ll know more of the figures in the stories, but Davies’ writing has verve and intelligence which should win over those less in love with the beautiful game.

Verdict: An enjoyable, well written and smart book which while focusing on England also manages to capture a sense of the tournament and the background it took place against. It benefits from fantastic access at all levels of the game and a clever, funny writer. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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One Comment on “Book Review: One Night in Turin aka All Played Out by Pete Davies”

  1. […] A fascinating insight of life behind the scenes at the 1990 World Cup, with Davies granted great access to the England team. Looks at it from a variety of different angles, the organizers, the fans, the players and the press, and captures football just before it would undergo a massive change and grow even bigger and global. A treat for footy fans. Full review. […]


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